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#FANSPEAK -- The Grand Sony Norde Saga: how could Mohun Bagan afford to miss the bus?

This is a Guest Column written by Mohun Bagan supporter CY RAJA

A few Mohunbagan supporters were chit-chatting in front of a street food shop in a chilly December evening where the air was quite heavy.
 
The news of Julen Colinas reached few hours back where he was ruled out of the ongoing I League due to a knee injury. The team was just getting into the groove with back to back wins under its belt and the tactics of Professor Vicuna seemed to be yielding results, finally. The injury of Colinas was a bolt from the blue and they all were sad. Suddenly, someone looked at his Mobile screen and yelled, "Hey, look what this social media page is saying. It's Sony Norde as replacement." The mood changed in a whisker. 

Photo - AIFF Media

Rumours started spreading thick and fast. 'We Want Sony Norde' posters and wallpapers started pouring in on social media. The live chat session streamed by one of the local sports channels debating whether Sony Norde is the probable replacement of Julen Colinas, witnessed unprecedented traffic. It was a passionate Sony Norde wave all over again and people learned from dependable sources that Sony would be meeting Mohun Bagan representatives in Dubai on 21st December, Saturday. 

Messages like these were social media where Mohun Bagan fans were trying to find out whether Norde was confirmed. One person he was going through huge problems in his personal life, if this news was confirmed then he would have a reason to smile after a long time. 

The euphoria reached its peak at Saturday evening when one of the local newspaper journalists posted a live photo on his FB wall of Norde celebrating son’s birthday with one of his close friends who incidentally had close relations with the Bagan management, people had started guessing a happy ending. Just when the stage seemed to be all set for a grand return of Norde in green and maroon amidst huge fanfare, Bagan officially announced the name of Komron Tursunov, the Tajikistani forward as the replacement of Colinas. 

It was an anti-climax. Silence prevailed in most of the Mohun Bagan social media groups apart from cursory welcome messages to Komron. Facebook was flooded with 'Why Not Norde' messages with little or no answer. To be honest, no Mohun Bagan official have ever officially claimed that they were in talks with the talismanic midfielder, and Sony  was contracted to Zira FC and as per people close to him, he was very much eager to feature in the prestigious Europa League if his club qualified. Then what fueled the speculation? And was he at all required in this team? Was there any realistic chance of him getting release from Zira. Let’s try to analyze the perspective from all quarters.  
 
Since beginning in 2015, Sony Norde remained the darling of the Mohun Bagan crowd. Green and Maroon faithfuls believed he was the man who could fill the void of Jose Ramirez Barreto and Sony responded with his best effort possible. Two National Trophies in the form of I League and Federation Cup, two runner-up campaigns where Bagan missed narrowly; a bit of luck could have re-written the history. Whenever, wherever Bagan got into trouble, the supporters looked up to him to bail the team out. Most of the time he delivered. But failed too, specially during last two seasons when he was bogged down by a career-threatening ACL injury. He could barely play 3 matches in 2017-18 season and left club midway through the campaign.

However, in his short stint Norde delivered a world class goal in the first away match against Punjab FC and delivered an assist via corner in the all-important Kolkata Derby. He scored against Churchill too. However, since the injury he incurred during the Churchill game, Bagan lost the plot in absence of its leader and a section of fans started crucifying him for being injury prone. Considering the severity of his injury which demanded an ACL operation and 6-8 months' break from football, he left the club mid-way so that Bagan could bring in a replacement.

Next season, amidst huge fanfare at 1 am in the Kolkata airport, Sony Norde returned to Mohun Bagan, fresh from ACL operation. He started off brilliantly with a signature goal in his very first match followed by a stunner against Chennai City FC. Unfortunately, he suffered another injury in the other leg which prevented him from taking part in subsequent 3-4 matches including a Derby which Bagan lost and it sparked a controversy. Kolkata football fans are very passionate about their respective clubs and if club isn't performing well, even the star player footballer has to face the wrath no matter who he is. 

Though Norde returned quickly and got straight into the business with goals against Real Kashmir and NEROCA, a subsequent derby loss, which was the first ever in Norde’s career with Bagan, crushed the Mariners' hopes of winning the I-League. Despite Norde being backed by most of his loyal fans, a sizeable faction started accusing him of being a reason for failure without properly analyzing that Sony Norde was not a striker. He was a playmaker who paved the way for goals but the striker duo had to capitalize and the defence needed to hold on to the lead. And in both of those departments, Bagan failed miserably. 

However, the growing murmurs about his fledging fitness seemed to have had its toll on the Bagan management too and they released Norde this season as part of a complete overhaul of the team - a Spanish coach who picked his own players, many of them Spanish as well. But that didn’t yield immediate result as Bagan finished 3rd in Calcutta Football League, lost to Gokulam Kerala FC in the Durand Cup final and crashed out of the semi-finals in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup. With every passing day, absence of Sony Norde became more palpable and every fan forum became rife with discussions that this team was lacking a quality playmaker and leader who would have impact on their style of play, be a match-winner on his own day and provide lethal crosses from the flank.

Meanwhile Sony was plying his trade at Zira Fc, a club based out of Baku, Azerbaijan, having a reasonably good campaign with two goals and two assists to his name until the head coach of Zira FC was changed in November; following which Sony started to get very little or no playing time. Nevertheless, he was match fit always and was in the bench for all the games or came on as a substitute, sufficiently justified his fitness level. 

So when Colinas, a right winger, was injured, it was a unanimous demand from the fans that only Sony could replace him. The new high-profile signing of Baba Diawara as box striker rekindled the hope of a Sony-Baba-Beitia combo which in every possibility, could have turned into a masterstroke had Sony been roped in. But that didn't happen. 

Kibu Vicuna prefers fast paced one touch football with short passes depending heavily on wing-play. He recently stated in an interview that a winger was his first choice. So, Sony Norde being a skillful left winger should have been the perfect match to that style and the added advantage was that he knew this club, he knew how to handle the pressure of playing for Bagan; something that every new player takes time to get used to. And nobody has any doubt that if match fit, Sony Norde has the ability and skill-set to run riot anytime against any club in India. Then why not Sony?

Was there a problem with getting a release from Zira? His recent not-so-cordial relationship with the new coach there could well become a boon in disguise for Bagan; it created a possibility that Zira would release Sony with a nominal transfer fee. Did Bagan explore the opportunity? Official sources denied it; but if they were telling the truth, why didn't Bagan try to bring back the most successful foreign player they have had in the last 5 years?

Was money an issue? If unofficial sources are to be believed, the monetary demand of Sony Norde was affordable; rather it was learnt that he could have brought in with a salary lesser than the last season. Then what went wrong? The General Secretary of the club now stays mainly in Dubai where Sony Norde was holidaying since 20th December. Was Bagan close to signing Sony Norde which somehow didn't happen at the last moment? 

The questions are aplenty. But the reality is the Bagan crowd didn’t get their hero back. Why the name of the new signing was declared with so much haste on Saturday itself is not known. By every footballing logic, Sony Norde was a ready fit for this team and he could have given Bagan that X-factor which a side requires at this pivotal stage in the I-League. With the possibility of entering the Indian Super League next season becoming more bright day by day, the Green and Maroon faithfuls wanted to get their favourite player back on board as soon as possible.

There seems to be a major disconnect between the Bagan management and the supporters. They didn't go for Norde in a win-win situation like this (if official sources are to be believed) or did they actually try to sign him but failed? With pressure mounting from fans, it will be interesting to observe whether Bagan Supremo Mr. Tutu Bose decides to intervene in the coming days as he is known to be a person who always gives priority to the wishes of general supporters over anything and everything. For the time being, Bagan have indeed missed the bus and when push comes to shove in the I-League title race, it may cost them dearly.

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